When Christine Carr was 20 weeks pregnant, she was informed that her daughter’s heart was not fully developed, and doctors recommended that she terminate the pregnancy.
“It was very grim, very depressing,” she said.
It was then that she found out about Mended Little Hearts of Long Island, a nonprofit that supports children, families and caregivers affected by congenital heart defects. Carr messaged the organization on Facebook, and within two hours Shannan Pearsall called her back.
Pearsall, a Lynbrook resident who helped found the organization in 2011, then told Carr about her son, Aidan. Aidan, who is now 10, was also born with half a heart and had to undergo three cardiac catheterizations and three open-heart surgeries. Today, Pearsall said, Aidan is doing “fantastic.”
“She got me through the rest of the pregnancy,” Carr said. Her daughter, Claire, is now an average 3-year-old who has undergone three surgeries, Carr said. Her first open-heart surgery came four days after she was born, her second surgery was when she was four-months-old and she had her third surgery over the summer.
To get her through those difficult times the doctors at the hospitals gave her a toy, usually with a Mended Little Hearts sticker on it. “For a kid, it makes all the difference,” Carr said. “And for parents, just to get that glimmer of a smile really makes a difference.”
To give back, Carr decided to volunteer with Mended Little Hearts shortly after Claire was born. She travels to Lynbrook every December to sort toys for the hospitals that doctors can give to young cardiac patients year-round. This year, a group of volunteers and their families helped sort more than 2,000 toys that they donated to the Morgan Stanley Children’s Hospital on Dec. 18.
“We’re stocking the cardio department for the year,” Pearsall said, adding that getting a toy could mean the difference between a good day and a bad day for a child in the hospital.
The organization also hosts events for children with congenital heart defects and their families. In February, the organization will celebrate its annual Bowl Your Heart Out event, where children go bowling and their family members are welcome to support them by wearing red to represent heart disease.
“For the kids, it’s important to meet other children who have similar diagnoses,” Pearsall said.
Carr added that the organization helps parents, too. “You need those moms to help you go through the hard times,” she said.
For more information about Mended Little Hearts of Long Island, visit www.LongIsland.MendedLittleHearts.net.